Demagoguery in Education Too / Miguel Iturria Savón

School Principal: So your daughter has come to start her schooling. And which do you prefer, the sea or the mountain?
Mother: The sea or the mountain?
Principal: Yes, the seas of mediocrity or the mountains of incongruities.

The school year is starting with the Cuban education system transforming itself to try to adapt its programs to the structural crisis affecting the country, which suffers from general despair, financial ruin, foreign dependence, and the old schemes that try to model the thinking and block the paths of children, youth and adults.

In these primitive days the official press interviews the leaders and managers of the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, who agree to speak about the rigor of the education, the rising educational level, state subsidies, and the need for political and ideological work.

They also speak of the importance of the mother tongue, educational assessments, continuity of studies and exams at higher level, and of the return to the classrooms of 10,000 retired teachers, and the incorporation of nearly 2,000 who worked in political and mass organizations.

The highlight of the transformations lies in the creation of 300 mixed centers where trade schools, technical schools, basic high schools and pre-university high schools coexist. The innovations include the reduction in boarding schools from primary through university; the opening of teaching schools in all provinces; the revitalization of Professional Technical Education; the elimination of the position of general teacher, the architects of which destroyed the middle schools; formation of double major professors in the middle and upper levels, who will be full time during the first and second courses and who will be teaching pedagogy from the third.

Some of these changes re old ideas warmed over, such as the reopening of schools teaching in each province, or the return of pre-university high schools to the cities, after decades of forced closure to put the kids in boarding schools where they work in the field, far from the family environment. There are still, of course, dozens of schools in remote locations and without conditions for the formation of the New Man conceived by the ideologues of the Communist Utopia.

And speaking of the past, we remember that in Cuba, since the educational reform undertaken by our teachers during the U.S. Occupation from 1899 to 1902, special importance was given to primary education and to arts and crafts, free and compulsory since 1901, six decades before the nationalization of education which did away with the coexistence of different models of education, abolished private schools and the prestigious Teachers Normal Schools and other institutions that shaped generations of Cubans.

The 2010-2011 school year begins with more propaganda than educational changes. As life is a continuous learning adventure, we hope that those who administer the axes of wisdom have learned that the keys of knowledge are passed on through rigor, freedom of conscience and the need to communicate and share in an environment of respect and acceptance.

September 10, 2010